Guest Commentator: John Otte, President, Proconex
Access to talent has been identified as a major constraint on middle market company growth. How has Proconex intentionally addressed its talent needs to support it strategic growth strategy, and what is the ROI thus far?
Like many companies in the middle market, Proconex identified a need to attract and retain talent to support its strategic growth strategies. We found it challenging to retain employees entering the workforce from college. A young graduate may take a job with a company, not clear on what direction he or she wanted to take with her career, then decide to go back to school or change career paths after a short time. Or someone with clear career goals in mind, accepts a position without a thorough understanding of a company’s business and realizes this is not the direction he or she intended. In either case, investment in training and promising talent is lost.
Proconex decided to approach the solution to this problem at the source by building relationships with colleges and universities throughout the region. This approach would have two goals: to develop substantial relationships with students through internship and co-op, and to build our brand with faculty and staff at local colleges and universities.
The first step in this process was to create a position which would specifically interface with staff and students at targeted colleges & universities. The Education Outreach Coordinator, as the position is now known, serves as the face of Proconex to students, staff and faculty at local universities and provides a focused and consistent message to build our brand within the collegiate community. In addition, Proconex managers looking for intern, co-op and entry level employees have a single resource within the company to access multiple programs throughout our region.
Over the years we had learned we needed more than a very thorough interview process to identify long-term potential. In order to get to know potential employees in a more meaningful way, the Education Outreach Coordinator re-vamped the company’s Internship program with three goals in mind:
(1) Create a well-structured program that provides frequent feedback to intern and manager,
(2) Equip and allow an intern to perform meaningful work within the company, and
(3) Seek candidates who have strong potential to become long-term employees upon graduation.
The overriding goal of our internship and co-op programs is to have an intern return to the company as a full-time employee after graduation.
Another important aspect to this approach is to build our relationship with college and university faculty & staff as well. In endeavoring to make ourselves known in this arena, our Education Outreach Coordinator created an opportunity to educate the educators about our company and the nature of our business. The culmination of this was a Lunch & Learn event held at our headquarters which gave university personnel an opportunity to gain a better understanding of what we do, high-light our corporate culture and explain the opportunities available to recent graduates. This proved to be a valuable learning experience for attendees on both sides of the table and will likely become a regular event.
In the 4 years since the position was created, this execution of this strategy has yielded multiple full-time employees, and enables us to develop a very deep pool of candidates for internship and entry level employment opportunities. Some of the tangible business benefits achieved through this program have been an acceleration of our onboarding process for new hires, with lower initial training and developments costs; a more efficient use of our college recruiting budget through the ongoing relationships we have developed when compared to the more traditional approach of only attending career fairs; and a reduced turnover rate for new hires who we came to know through the program, and in turn learned what we were all about as a company before making the decision to join the Proconex team.